COMMENT: First World War stories have an important resonance today

The Westmorland Gazette’s appeal for stories about local people involved in or affected by the First World War has attracted an amazing response.

Servicemen’s descendants, local historians and community groups have offered information and photographs that give often heartbreakingly tragic insights into the devastating conflict, which began 100 years ago this August.

The material will help us reveal how the Great War affected the towns and villages throughout Cumbria, north Lancashire and the Dales.

The stories will be told in a series of supplements to be published over four weeks in the run-up to the momentous anniversary.

Information will also be featured on the Gazette’s website over the coming months.

Such stories are not just important in an historical context - they have a resonance today.

Although our most troublesome conflict of late - Afghanistan - has seen hundreds rather than hundreds of thousands of British soldiers killed, each life lost is both a tragedy and a stark reminder of the futility of war.

Hopefully, now the phased pullback is under way, there will be no further deaths of British personnel before final withdrawal of combat troops is completed at the end of the year.

Although no decisive outcome was achieved in Afghanistan, the UK’s military top brass are bound to have learned some practical lessons from the conflict. Let’s hope our top politicians have, too.

One influential Tory MP who has a refreshingly realistic view of the Afghan campaign is Penrith and the Border MP Rory Stewart.

In his fascinating documentary, shown on BBC on Sunday, the former diplomat compared NATO’s failed attempt to subdue the Taliban’s tribal regions with the similarly frustrated efforts of the Roman legions when they tried to conquer the Scottish Highlands 2,000 years ago.

His observations add contemporary credence to the most influential Tory of the last century, Sir Winston Churchill, who rightly declared that:’jaw, jaw is better than war, war’.

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